Triple suicide attack in Qamishlo kills at least 16

The northeastern Syrian city of Qamishlo in Rojava canton has been hit by triple suicide attacks in Wusta, Seyahî and Xerbî neighborhoods Wednesday night, as Assyrian Christians from the district were celebrating the new year at two Assyrian-owned restaurants.

The aftermath of the bomb attack at 'Miami' restaurant in Qamishlo
The aftermath of the bomb attack at ‘Miami’ restaurant in Qamishlo

The first blast at Miami Restaurant in Wusta neighborhood occurred at 22:05, which was followed by a second in Gabriel Restaurant in Seyahi neighborhood several minutes later, and a third one in the same restaurant soon later.

One other suicide attack by terrorists was conducted near the Medinet Eş-Şebab (Youth’s Centre) in Xerbî neighborhood.

In the meantime, Asayish (public security) forces avert at the last minute another suicide attack set to be conducted with a bomb-laden motorcycle among the people who gathered at the scene of the blast in Wusta neighborhood. Asayish members killed the assailant and detonated the motorcyle.

Meanwhile a group of terrorist attackers opened fire on Asayish members, who responded immediately and encircled the group. Fighting between both sides is going on.

Suicide attack in Qamishlo
Suicide attack in Qamishlo

The consecutive suicide attacks have reportedly left many casualties who have been rushed to hospitals in Qamishlo city.

After the attacks, Daesh has claimed the attacks through a video that was published on their news agency Aamaq.

Sources: ANF News, Reuters


Iraqi PM al-Abadi says Turkey not respecting agreement to withdraw troops

Iraq’s prime minister accused Turkey on Wednesday of failing to respect an agreement to withdraw its troops from the country’s north and its foreign minister said if forced, Iraq could resort to military action to defend its sovereignty.

The diplomatic dispute flared after Turkey deployed a force protection unit of around 150 troops earlier this month, citing heightened security risks near Bashiqa military base where its troops were training an Iraqi militia to fight Islamic State insurgents in nearby Mosul.

Iraq PM al-Abadi visits newly reconquered Ramadi
Iraq PM al-Abadi visits newly reconquered Ramadi

Iraqi security forces have had only a limited presence in Nineveh province, where the camp is located, since collapsing in June 2014 in the face of a lightning advance by Islamic State.

Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi told his Turkish counterpart in a call on Wednesday that a Turkish delegation had promised to withdraw its troops, according to a statement from his media office.

“But the Turkish government has not respected the agreement and we request that the Turkish government announce immediately that it will withdraw from Iraqi territory”, he said.

Ankara has acknowledged there was a “miscommunication” with Baghdad over the deployment. It later withdrew some troops to another base inside the nearby autonomous Kurdistan region and said it would continue to pull out of Nineveh province, where Bashiqa is located.

But Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan has said a total withdrawal is out of the question, and Abadi repeated to Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu on Wednesday that Baghdad had not approved the deployment.

Speaking on Wednesday night, Davutoglu said Ankara respected Iraqi sovereignty, but that Baghdad had no control over a third of its own territory. “If Baghdad wants to use force, they should use it against Daesh,” Davutoglu added, using an Arabic name for Islamic State.

Abadi said there was no reason for Turkey to expose its trainers to danger by sending them “deep inside Iraqi borders”, and that Islamic State posed no danger to Turkey from inside Iraqi territory. Bashiqa is about 90 km (55 miles) from the Turkish border.

Davutoglu also congratulated Abadi after Iraqi forces retook the centre of the city of Ramadi this week, a victory that could help vindicate the Iraqi leader’s strategy for rebuilding the military after stunning defeats.

Military action

Iraqi Foreign Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari said earlier in the day that his government was committed to exhausting peaceful diplomatic avenues to avoid a crisis with Turkey, its northern neighbour, but insisted that all options remained open.

“If we are forced to fight and defend our sovereignty and riches, we will be forced to fight,” he told reporters in Baghdad.

U.S. Vice President Joe Biden, in a phone call with Davutoglu earlier this month, welcomed the Turkish troops’ withdrawal and urged Ankara to continue trying to cooperate with Baghdad.

Biden will visit Turkey on Jan. 23 and will meet Erdogan and Davutoglu, sources from the Turkish prime minister’s office said on Wednesday.

After the diplomatic row began, the Bashiqa base came under fire from Islamic State when militants fired rockets in an attack on Kurdish Peshmerga forces in the area. The Turkish military said its soldiers returned fire and four had been lightly wounded in the incident.

Source: Reuters


Syrian government arrests two opposition figures on way to Riyadh meeting: NCC

Syrian authorities Wednesday arrested two prominent members of the country’s domestic opposition as they traveled to Riyadh to meet other government opponents, a colleague told AFP.

Ahmad al-Asrawi and Munir al-Bitar, two members of the National Coordination Committee for Democratic Change, were stopped at Syria’s border with Lebanon, said the body’s secretary general, Yahya Aziz.

Ahmad al-Asrawi
Ahmad al-Asrawi

Both Asrawi and Bitar were headed to Saudi Arabia to join fellow members of the opposition’s “supreme committee for negotiations,” Aziz told AFP.

The “supreme committee” is a 33-member group formed earlier this month at a landmark meeting of Syria’s armed and political opposition in Riyadh.

The committee is set to choose at least part of an opposition delegation for peace talks with the government next month.

“Syrian authorities today arrested our two colleagues Ahmad al-Asrawi and Munir al-Bitar at the Syrian-Lebanese border point as they were heading to the supreme committee meeting in Riyadh,” Aziz said.

He said the pair were taken “to an unknown location.”

“Those who want a political solution would not do this,” he said.

In a statement published online, the NCCDC said the arrest contradicted “international efforts to reach a just political solution” to the conflict in Syria.

It demanded that Asrawi and Bitar be released and said Syrian authorities “were responsible for their safety”.

The arrest comes less than a week after Syria’s army claimed responsibility for the killing of rebel chief Zahran Alloush.

Alloush was the head of Jaish al-Islam, the most powerful rebel faction in the Damascus province.

Jaish al-Islam, too, had taken part in the opposition meeting in Riyadh.

Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir on Tuesday blamed Alloush’s death on Russia, saying the killing does “not serve the peace process and (efforts) to achieve a political solution in Syria.”

Syria’s government has regularly referred to Jaish al-Islam and to Alloush as “terrorists,” but has said it is ready to participate in new peace talks.

On Wednesday, Prime Minister Wael al-Halqi said Syria was “ready to take part in Geneva talks next month … without any international interference.”

Source: Agence France-Presse

Syrian army backed by Russian jets enters al-Shaykh Maskin

Syrian troops fought their way into rebel-held al-Shaykh Maskin in the southern province of Deraa on Wednesday in an assault which rebels said was supported by the heaviest Russian aerial bombing campaign so far in the south.

Troops were in al-Shaykh Maskin’s main square and had taken over the eastern and northern neighborhoods of the town which lies on a major supply route from the Syrian capital, Damascus, to the city of Deraa, the army said in a statement.

A rebel source confirmed troops had entered parts of the town and said fierce clashes were raging in the eastern neighborhood known as the Masaken – an area of dozens of apartment buildings that formerly housed top army officers.

A commander in a leading rebel group fighting in the area said the heavy Russian bombing on their posts, where rebels had counted at least 100 raids in the past two days, had been decisive in tipping the balance against the rebels.

“This is the heaviest Russian bombing on the side of the regime in Deraa and without it the army, which faces manpower shortages, would not have made these gains,” said one commander from Jabhat Thuwwar Souria, a group involved in the fighting.

Rebels from an array of groups – some of them backed by Western powers and including the Islamist Muthana group – fought back against the offensive near a former air base north of the town of al-Shaykh Maskin, insurgents on the ground told Reuters.

The army assault on al-Shaykh Maskin is part of the government’s first major offensive in southern Syria since Russia joined the fight on Sept. 30 to support its ally President Bashar al-Assad.

Its recapture would consolidate the army’s hold over the heavily fortified region which has formed a southern line of defense protecting Damascus.

Russia, which did not confirm the strikes and has up to now concentrated on the northwest and coastal areas, has said it is primarily targeting hardline Islamic State fighters.

The army took the Brigade 82 base from the rebels on Tuesday, lost it as bad weather set in, and took it once more overnight with the support of the air strikes, said rebels.

Syria’s army said it had made advances overnight against insurgents who it said were mainly al Qaeda inspired groups.

Al-Shaykh Maskin, the main goal of the army’s southern campaign, lies on one of the main supply routes from the capital Damascus to the city of Deraa, close to the border with Jordan.

Securing the town would allow the army to press further south in mainly rebel held towns such as Ibtaa, Dael and in Ataman near Deraa city.

Rebels from another mainstream anti-Assad armed opposition alongside some Islamist groups said they shelled army posts in the city of Izraa, a main government held town that has major fortifications and is based to the east of al-Shaykh Maskin.

Activists and residents say Russian air strikes, in which missiles and bombs are launched from a high altitude, are distinct from Syrian air force strikes which rely more on barrel bombs dropped from helicopters flying at a lesser height.

Rebels still control large parts of the region, that also borders Israel, but have been largely on the defensive since their failed offensive in June to take the government-controlled part of Deraa city.

The south is the last major stronghold of the mainstream, anti-Assad opposition, who have been weakened elsewhere by the expansion of the ultra-hardline Islamic State group in the east and north, and gains by the Nusra Front in the northwest.

Source: Reuters


Bombs in Homs’ al-Zahra district kill 32, wound 90

At least 32 people were killed and 90 wounded in two bomb explosions in the Syrian city of Homs on Monday, monitoring group the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

The blasts, one from a car bomb and another from a suicide attack, struck the al-Zahra district in the middle of the city which is inhabited by Alawites, said the Britain-based Observatory, which monitors the conflict through a network of contacts on the ground.

Syria’s state news agency SANA reported two car bomb blasts, but gave a lower initial toll of six dead and 37 wounded.

It was the second major attack in the city since a ceasefire deal took effect earlier this month, paving the way for the government to take over the last rebel-controlled area of Homs.

Twin blasts on Dec. 12, also in al-Zahra, killed at least 16 people. Islamic State claimed responsibility for that attack, saying it had detonated a suicide car bomb.

Under the Homs ceasefire deal, at least 700 insurgent fighters and members of their families left the last rebel-controlled area of the city, al Waer district. The United Nations presided over implementation of the deal.

Source: Reuters

Iraqi army declares victory over Daesh in Ramadi

Iraq’s army said on Sunday it had defeated Daesh fighters in a provincial capital west of Baghdad, the first major victory for the U.S.-trained force since it collapsed in the face of an assault by the militants 18 months ago.

Victory in Ramadi, capital of mainly Sunni-Muslim Anbar province in the Euphrates River valley west of the capital, deprives Islamic State militants of their biggest prize of 2015. The fighters captured it in May after government troops fled in a defeat which prompted Washington to take a hard look at strategy against the militants.

Iraqi army units in Ramadi, December 26 2015

After encircling the city for weeks, the Iraqi military launched a campaign to retake it last week, and made a final push to seize the central administration complex on Sunday.

“By controlling the complex this means that we have defeated them in Ramadi,” said Sabah al-Numani, a spokesman for the force leading the fight on the government side. “The next step is to clear pockets that could exist here or there in the city.”

State television broadcast footage of troops, Humvee vehicles and tanks advancing through Ramadi streets amid piles of rubble and collapsed houses. Some districts appeared to have been completely destroyed by the advance.

Television also showed nighttime celebrations in mainly Shi’ite cities south of Baghdad, for the victory in Anbar, with people dancing in the streets and waving Iraqi flags from cars.

Officials did not give any immediate death tolls for the battle. The government says most civilian residents of the city were able to evacuate before it launched its assault.

Islamic State, also known by the acronyms ISIS, ISIL or Daesh, swept through a third of Iraq in June 2014 and declared a “caliphate” to rule over all Muslims from territory in both Iraq and Syria, carrying out mass killings and imposing a draconian form of Islam.

Since then, the battle against the group in both countries has drawn in most global and regional powers, often with competing allies on the ground in complex multi-sided civil wars.

A U.S.-led coalition has been waging an air campaign against the fighters in both countries, but rebuilding the Iraqi army to the point that it was capable of recapturing and holding territory has been one of the biggest challenges.

In previous battles, including the recapture of former dictator Saddam Hussein’s home city Tirkit in April, the Iraqi government relied on Iran-backed Shi’ite militias for ground fighting, with its own army in a supporting role.

Ramadi was recaptured by the army itself, without relying on the militias, who were kept off the battlefield to avoid sectarian tensions with the mainly Sunni population.

“The complex is under our complete control, there is no presence whatsoever of Daesh fighters in the complex,” Numani told Reuters.

The government said the next target after Ramadi will be the northern city of Mosul, by far the largest population center controlled by Islamic State in either Iraq or Syria.

“The smooth victory in Ramadi should be happy news for the residents of Mosul,” Numani said.

U.S. officials had hoped Baghdad would launch an assault on Mosul during 2015, but this was put off after the fighters swept into Ramadi.

Dislodging the militants from Mosul, which had a pre-war population close to 2 million, would effectively abolish their state structure in Iraq and deprive them of a major source of funding, which comes partly from oil and partly from fees and taxes on residents.

Source: Reuters